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Cannonball Read IV: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

By Valyruh | Book Reviews | August 15, 2012 | Comments ()


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The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison's first novel, and it is a masterpiece. It is a poem, it is a cry of outrage, it is a lament. It is an authentic telling of growing up black in postwar America. The Bluest Eye focuses on a year in the lives of a group of children in the American Midwest (the author's origin), and uses their young eyes to penetrate the veil of hatred/self-hatred that has afflicted and been inflicted upon black people in this country, starting in their childhood and perpetuating itself from generation to generation. Morrison is writing for and to her people, but if white readers draw a lesson, so much the better.

Sisters Claudia and Frieda--clearly representing the voice of the author herself--bitterly relate the story of the dark-skinned 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove, who has a bitter shell of a mother whose identity lies entirely with the white family she serves and a burned-out drunk of a father who rapes and impregnates his daughter. Morrison switches to the third-person viewpoint to reveal the earlier tragedies that shaped Pecola's parents, so that the reader can comprehend the cycle of violence, desperation, loneliness, and self-loathing that is perpetuated against the innocent Pecola.

Pecola comes to live with Claudia and Frieda's family for a short while, and we see crystalized in their experience the ugly color wars that are fought among and between lighter- and darker-skinned members of their race, based on the blonde and blue-eyed American myth of what constitutes "beauty." Indeed, all the emotionally-ravaged Pecola yearns for are Hollywood blue eyes. When she loses her baby and then her mind, Pecola gets what she wishes for and the heartbreak comes full circle.

Author Morrison tells us Pecola's fate in the first pages of her book, but writes her novel to try to explain the "why." She brilliantly uses as her introduction and chapter headings excerpts from the elementary-school reader many American children at the time grew up with, the "Dick-and-Jane" primer which tells us that the only proper family is the happy white mother and father, the blonde and blue-eyed siblings, the dog, cat, car, house and picket fence. The contrast to real life in Morrison's experience-and that of her characters-could not be more stunning.

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As I've found with all of Morrison's books, reading The Bluest Eye is not a "pleasant" experience. One comes away in tears and intense heartache for all the brown-eyed brown-skinned children who never got to see their beauty reflected in the eyes of those around them. It is a must-read.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it, and find more of Valyruh's reviews on the group blog.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links
in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • doomhasspoken

    The only book I ever bit after reading. Thankfully, it was the paperback version. Here's why. And this is not a spoiler. Just before you get to the rape scene, Morrison tells you everything you never wanted to know about the life and history of Pecola's father. Don't get me wrong. Nobody is sympathizing with this monster after reading this chapter. But, if you're not at least empathizing with him for at least half a second, well, then you really just don't have any compassion whatsoever. Of course, this makes the next chapter 500 times more brutal to read. So, when I finally got to the end, I saw Toni's face smirking at me on the back of the book. She seemed to be saying, "See. See. You think you know a man? You think every story on the 6:00 news is all black and white, two dimensional, right or wrong? Nope. Everything is infinitely more complicated than it first looks. Everything. Even this catastrophe." And then I bit the goddamned book and threw it at the wall. And then I had to write about it for an American Lit final exam. University. Good times.

  • e jerry powell

    I didn't get to The Bluest Eye until after I red Tar Baby and Beloved. I found myself pushing it away, as often as not, and Paradise was even more painful to read. Great stuff, but PAINFUL.

  • Maguita NYC

    Wonderful review! I will definitely add this book to my list.

  • Carrie/Teabelly

    I remember a lecturer at university mentioning the moment where Pecola 'gets' her blue eyes, as if it was a magical moment (as in, something magical had happened to give them to her, not like he thought it was wonderful writing). I was sitting at the back of the hall going 'Whut? She goes INSANE! How is this a good thing?!' I'm assuming he misread it. It bugs me, 10 years later.

  • Valyruh

    I don't blame you! Bugs me too! In fact, that's kind of scary, to know that a university prof can so badly mis-read Morrison's intent, however poetical or metaphorical her style.

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